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Stephen Malkmus on Pavement’s “Funky” Tune

The rabble-rousing wordsmith discusses "Stereo," the opening track off the band's reissued album Brighten the Corners.

William Goodman // January 22, 2009

Witty and blithe, Stephen Malkmus’ jester-of-the-MTV-age lyricism has been as vital to Pavement’s music as the lo-fi guitars and catchy alt-pop structures. And nowhere have these assets been as freeform as on “Stereo,” the opening track off their reissued 1997 album Brighten the Corners.

“Remember Sonic Youth’s ‘Bull in the Heather’? I think it [“Stereo”] was an attempt to do that but maybe be a little catchier,” Malkmus tells of the tune, which the band — guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, bassist Mark Ibold, multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich, and drummer Steve West — recorded at producer Mitch Easter’s North Carolina home studio, the Fidelitorium. “I was trying to write a song that was funky with a catchy bass-line.”

Instrumentally, “Stereo” is certainly funky, with a mess of pulsing keyboard, thumping bass lines, and whizzing guitars. Lyrically, the tune has a free-wheeling narrative bridging “the voice of Geddy Lee” to “malaria hysteria” and more.

“The first line, ‘Pigs, they wiggle when they walk,’ it’s from this band called the Authorities,” Malkmus says of the punk group, which is from his hometown of Stockton, CA. “There was a lot of anti-authority back then, just us skateboarders against the cops.”

“It’s just sort of sing-song-y Gang Starr-style hip-hop talk,” Malkmus adds. “Each word, each end of each couplet, especially towards the end, leads into the next idea. It’s just kind of free-associative, relating each word to the next word. It just came off the top of my head, the way freestyling does.”

Listen: “Stereo”